What happens in 100 years at any given time in history can be extraordinary. 100 years can be the span of one hearty person’s lifetime. 100 years can be the span of one country, one technology, one house, one species, or one big tree. I am nearly 40 years into my 100 years, assuming the universe has a long life in store for me. I am coming up on the halfway point and I’ve committed to contributing as meaningfully as I may so, when I leave the Earth, I will be at peace with the man I was.
I have big shoes to fill. I have been fortunate to come from a remarkable family and will share stories about their journeys over the two centuries, starting with my grandfather Rajabi.
Rajabali Meghji, Varas was born February 9, 1908 in (what is now) India. He traveled to East Africa as a young man, following his father. In 1938 he joined his father in agriculture enterprise procuring sisal, sugar cane, maize and sorghum. He remained in agriculture the rest of his life, and helped set up the Kilombero region of Tanzania, where today Kilombero Sugar continues to create jobs as a pillar of the local economy. He had only two years of informal schooling.
My grandfather was a member of the Volunteer Corps and supported various brotherhoods at the Jamat at Kilosa, and served as Honorary Secratery of the Aga Khan School there, supervising the school from 1944 – 1960. He represented the Kilosa and Ulanga districts on the Aga Khan Provincial Council in Dar-et-Salaam, and earned the title “Varas”, an ancient Isamaili title of honor given in recognition of the recipient’s past service.
My grandfather was very charitable, active as Chairman of the Central Agricultural Committee in Tanzania, as Chairman of the Kilosa and Ulanga trader’s corporation, and the Kilosa and Ulanga industrial corporation. He served on many boards, including labor tribunals and regional development committees.
Rajabali Megji, Varas died suddenly in April 1970 of a cerebral hemorrhage. His life was celebrated at the “end of the trail” as “an unselfish and dedicated philanthropist who served not only the Jamat all his life, but others outside the community as well; a pioneer who has left his indelible footprints in the path of history that he walked.” (Source: 101 Ismaili Heroes, published 2003).
My father carried on the tradition in agriculture but in new ways as one of the leading genetic scientists in the world. He traveled globally, creating the basis for the very genomics I am passionate about today. My father shared a letter about my grandfather’s philosophy, and today as I do my best to live up to the tradition of global service handed down to me by my grandfather and father, I thought I’d share some of that letter, too lengthy to reproduce here:
- Speak the truth. Conduct business honestly. Do not lie. Do not violate anybody’s trust.
- Keep your promises.
- Conduct business only according to your capital limitations.
- Conduct business according to your own capability and ability.
- If you think of increasing your business, then do so only if trustworthy staff is available, paying them a fair wage.
- Do not hurry to prematurely plan on the basis of your children - wait until they are married, and they have had an opportunity to present their views - and even then, include them in the business only after they have proven themselves, and with a clear understanding.
- Always conduct yourself to maintain unity and cordiality in the family, and fulfill your family duties.
- If, due to a member of the family, there is trouble, then forgive that member and do not belittle them in anger.
- Always be tolerant.
- Educate our children as much as possible.
Speaking of what is possible, please join me in imagining what is possible from this moment. 100 years from now. What can we do individually, independently, together, collectively, to make sure the world is a kinder, healthier, more peaceful place? What will our new “digital DNA” look like, complementing our physical DNA? What can we do to ensure millions of people have access to information, services, and each other so no single slice of our society suffers?
In another letter, Rajabali Meghji, Varas was described as strong in character, a man of his word, sincere, trustworthy, a good communicator, blunt, humble, honest, impartial, ever forgiving, full of common sense, hard-working, responsible, caring, compassionate, courageous and patient. He was also “very secretive of any service or good deeds by himself”, humble in the extreme.
This first post takes on special meaning as I sent a draft of this to my father two days before he passed away. Like his father, he was skeptical of being too public about good works, focusing more on just being a quietly powerful, humble and thoughtful member of the community. The second to last email I ever received from my father was asking me to be more specific, more focused and less about cheerleading. His thoughts and edits have been applied to this piece. He would hate me writing about him, but I started that draft today.
I am so fortunate to have been born into such a family. As I move into my next decade, I look forward to applying my background combined with my own personal experiences as a scientist, entrepreneur, “realist, idealist and futurist” and focusing on projects that really matter, giving a strong voice to this generation’s pioneers. Big shoes to fill – for the rest of the journey ahead!